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Bush touts Arab spring, says US can't fear freedom

While leaving the building, Bush adds, 'I'm for Mitt Romney'

By Henry C. Jackson

Associated Press

Published: Tuesday, May 15 2012 2:04 p.m. MDT

Former President George W. Bush, third from right, and former first lady Laura Bush, right, applaud as they watch Myanmar opposition leader and Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, projected on a monitor, speaking during a gathering to celebrate the successes of dissidents and activists in their fight to be free, Tuesday, May 15, 2012, at the George W. Bush Presidential Center in Washington. Other are Chinese dissident Xiqiu Fu, right, and Syrian dissident Ammar Abdulhamid, fourth from right.

Manuel Balce Ceneta, Associated Press

WASHINGTON — Former President George W. Bush on Tuesday praised the Arab spring movement and said the U.S. shouldn't fear the spread of freedom, even if it doesn't know what policies newly liberated countries will pursue.

"America does not get to choose if a freedom revolution should begin or end in the Middle East or elsewhere," Bush said. "It only gets to choose what side it is on."

And the U.S., Bush said, should always be on the side of freedom.

The former president remarks came at event marking the launch of his presidential institute's "Freedom Collection." The event also featured brief remarks by his wife, former first lady Laura Bush, and a question-and-answer session by video with Myanmar democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi.

Bush said uprisings last year in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya and elsewhere marked the broadest challenge to authoritarian rule since the fall of the Soviet Union, but said some feared what that would mean for U.S. foreign policy.

"America, they argue, should be content with supporting the flawed leaders they know, in the name of stability," he said. "But in the long run this foreign policy approach is not realistic. It is not realistic to presume that so-called stability enhances our national security."

Bush said the U.S. also doesn't have the power to "preserve the old order, which is inherently unstable."

The former Texas governor, who moved to Dallas, after leaving office, seemed relaxed during his appearance. He mostly has avoided the public spotlight, including commenting on his successor, President Barack Obama, and this year's GOP presidential race.

Bush joked that he had found his own freedom "by leaving Washington." As the event wrapped up, he hopped back onstage to say thanks and playfully wave goodbye to the 100 or so people in the audience.

ABC News reports that as Bush was leaving the event, he told reporters, "I'm for Mitt Romney."

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